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Harp Song of the Dane Women -- Rudyard Kipling

       
(Poem #143) Harp Song of the Dane Women
What is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in---
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you---
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken---

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables---
To pitch her sides and go over her cables.

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow,
And the sound of your oar-blades, falling hollow,
Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker ?
-- Rudyard Kipling
This poem pretty much speaks for itself - I could rhapsodize about the
compelling rhythms, the unusual rhyme-scheme, the evocative imagery; but
I won't. I will say, however, that 'the pale suns and the stray bergs
nest in' is an utterly beautiful image.

m.

Kipling: See Poem #17, Poem #29 and Poem #43

PS. Lovely, lovely poem - t.

48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Levana Taylor said...

This poem was very effectively set to music by Gordon Bok, recorded on his
album "Schooners".

-LT

Uri And/Or Talya said...

this song appear at the first page of ¨the Long Ships¨ by Frans Gunnar
Bengtsson which is the best account of how the vikings of the era lived and
died, the whole of the book once read can indeed be summerized by this short
poem, indeed I think I failed to understand it in its fullest untill I read
the book.

--
Uri & Talya Do Central America !

Lee Chiu San said...

I majored in English literature, and came across another version of this poem then, but that was almost half a century ago. I was also a motorcycle racer and held an International Grand Prix racing license.

Today, I run a car dealership that is part of an international conglomerate, and get involved in mergers and (sometimes hostile) acquisitions.

Not exactly the peaceful kind of part-time work that people are sometimes called out of retirement to do.

There is a divide between the poetic and arty types, and those on the other extreme, exemplified by those who still ride big motorcycles (cops sometimes very politely say to me "Grandpa, you should not go so fast").

This poem by Kipling exemplifies why Vikings go on raids, and why, even today, men do dangerous things. It's not just for the money.

It's the spice without which life would be tasteless.

By the way, Kipling also wrote a novel "The Man Who Would Be King" based loosely upon the exploits of a real-life American who set himself up as a king in a province of Afghanistan.

I live in Singapore, which is not far from Borneo, and a century ago, a British adventurer, James Brooke, actually set up a kingdom in the state of Sarawak there. This dynasty of the White Rajahs lasted till the Second World War, when his grand-nephew voluntarily ceded his country to the British empire.

Yes, poets express our dreams. We try to live them, and some turn out to be more fantastic than reality.

Lee Chiu-San

My new e-mail address is

D. Bruce Dickson said...

Hitchens is right. This is arguably the greatest anti-war poem ever
written. D. B. Dickson

JehangirsSchool said...

Hi,

I was trawling the net for some info on Harp Song Of The Dane Women. I
teach the poem to young adults and always interpreted the shouts and
slaughters to mean that the sailors were whalers who would stay out all
summer, processing the whale blubber at sea and returning only during
the winters.

One of the examiners who test our students seemed to think
that the reference was t the ancient Vikings.

Would appreciate any links you could send me on the subject
ocz you seem to think the same way as I do.

Regards
Nosherwan Jehangir
Jehangirs School Of Speech & Drama
Bombay

evans said...

I was a merchant seaman for 30 years, and this poem sums up going to sea. Leaving the woman you love behind. It was never easy that part of a seaman's life.
Gerry Evans
New Zealand

Allen. C. Roffey said...

I first came across this wonderful work quoted in Arthur Clarke's 2010, Sea,
Space, there now seem to be such similarities, wonder if astronaut's wives
feel the same.

Anonymous said...

nice

Anonymous said...

I thought it was about the sealers, perhaps also whalers, who went to the Artic Islands north of of Norway for sea mammal oil, seal hides. This oil was a vital necessity to live in northern lands,for nutrition, and oil to light your living room, in the days before margerine and kerosene and electricity for lamps.

Raven. said...

The poem is to be found in the Penguin version of 'Puck of Pooks's Hill' also by Rudyard Kipling. I've always though it was about the Viking era with the harp being popular then and the Dane women is self explanatory since some of the Vikings came from Denmark as well as other parts of Scandinavia :-)

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